AN ISLAMIC cemetery will be built in the grounds of a historic Anglican graveyard near Camden where plans for an Islamic school were rejected this year following fierce community opposition.
The Lebanese Muslim Association paid $1.5 million for the St Thomas Anglican Cemetery at Narellan in July. The site has space for almost 4000 bodies and will help overcome an acute shortage of gravesites in Sydney.
The prospectus for the An-Nur Islamic Cemetery and Burial Ground, obtained by the Herald , shows the cemetery will have capacity for 1900 single plots or 3800 double plots and would be able to cater for the needs of the growing Muslim community in Sydney's south-west for 10 to 15 years.
But the sale has angered locals fiercely protective of the heritage values of the cemetery and who say the Anglican Church should never have sold it.
Len English has 33 relatives buried at the cemetery and mowed it until the church sold it to a funeral firm headed by William Cole in 2004.
"The first record of burials [goes] back to 1839 and there were burials there before that," Mr English said. "The bullock teams used to stop over at Narellan on their way from Sydney to Camden and further south-west and that's where they would bury their dead.
"The Friends of St Thomas did all they could to save the cemetery and even approached council to see if they could help in the purchase of the site from the Anglican church. The church had no right to sell the cemetery land in the first place.
"I'm going in to see the local member, if not the Mayor of Camden. My heritage is up there: my grandfather and grandmother, my parents, my brother and uncles. Our family goes back 200 years in the district. They came to Camden Park and stayed there.
"I've got nothing against migrants but when they want to take over your cemetery …"
Even so, the Muslim association president, Shawky Kassir, said he did not expect a repeat of the uproar that followed the Quranic Society's application to build a school at nearby Cawdor.
Mr Kassir said he believed the public would accept the need for the Muslim community to bury its dead and cemeteries were a "well mannered" development. He pledged to protect existing graves.
Only Rookwood Cemetery offers a dedicated area for Muslims but it is fast running out of space.
The prospectus bills the new cemetery as accessible to Sydney and Campbelltown via the M5 and Hume Highway and was "set in picturesque rural surrounds" that offered a "peaceful ambience for respectful reflection in a unique setting not found in many other inner-city facilities".
A spokesman for Sydney Anglicans said the site was sold to Camden Valley Funerals, headed by funeral directors William and Christine Cole, in 2004 for $90,000.
"The Anglican diocese sold in good faith to the only people to express an interest in the purchase of the land."
Mr Cole told the Herald he had offered to sell the site to local heritage interests but they had told him they did not have the money. He had used the cemetery for several burials but had decided not to proceed with his plans for the site due to family issues.
The new buyers had promised the cemetery would be divided into Protestant and Muslim sections, all burial reservations would be honoured and the cemetery well cared for, Mr Cole said.
The cemetery was listed as a heritage item on the Camden Local Environment Plan and existing graves could not be demolished or altered without council approval. The heritage listing means the owner has to address heritage concerns when developing the lands.
Camden Council said it had not been told of any proposals for the site but the new owners would not need to make a development application for a burial site.